Cowboys: Is this new player key to surviving without Tony Romo?
The typically overreacting pundits have barraged quarterback Brandon Weeden with criticism for conservative decision-making during the Dallas Cowboys recent loss to the Atlanta Falcons, despite watching him lead an offensive attack to 28 points.
An offense that seemed to move down the field with ease in the first half, evaporated in the second as the Falcons focused on shutting down the potent Cowboys running game with eight and nine man fronts. In a copycat league, there is little doubt that Dallas will see similar looks until starting quarterback Tony Romo makes his return.
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There will need to be adjustments – and maybe a new player too.
Yes, Weeden is certainly no Romo; no backup quarterback is. But in spite of what many smart analysts believe should happen, this is not a piece about backup to the backup quarterback Matt Cassel. This article is about another new Cowboys player; one who is preparing to make his first appearance in the star on Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints: running back Christine Michael.
A powerful young player who spent his first two years with the Seattle Seahawks after being drafted in the 2nd round, Michael was traded to Dallas in early September. After watching first-year starter Joseph Randle get stuffed in the second half this past Sunday, the Cowboys appear primed to give Michael a role on game day.
Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported on Thursday that Michael spent the week working with the starting offense for the first time since his arrival in north Texas. Of course it is no guarantee that Dallas will find a way to carry four running backs (not including fullback Tyler Clutts) on the game day roster.
But if Atlanta’s second half strategy to load the box becomes a blueprint to beat the Weeden-led offense, adding a power back like Michael to the mix might be the necessary adjustment.
"“We’re always keeping competition for the playing time,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “We decide [Friday], at the latest, Saturday, what we’ll do. He’s been getting a few more reps this week in practice with the first group, so that’s good to see him work with our first group and other guys. He’s making a lot of progress. I think he is doing a great job.”"
As Cowboys fans are well aware, Saints (and former Cowboys) defensive coordinator Rob Ryan loves the blitz. There have been concerns about Michael’s pass protection skills dating back to his time in Seattle which, coupled with his abbreviated time in the Cowboys system, will probably factor into the decision.
But as offensive coordinator Scott Linehan searches for a strategy to beat the look that his squad faced this past weekend, a solution could lie in the large and bulky frame of Michael. It’s a sentiment that doesn’t seem too far removed from this coaching staff already:
"“I think he brings a different style,” running back coach Gary Brown said. “He is more a short squatty, power-type back with good feet and good explosion. You would like to have a guy with that type of build to take on that eighth man to make him miss or run over him. If you are a good running team, you are going to get eight in the box. You got to be able to have that back to make that guy miss. It will be a nice little mix for us.”"
The Cowboys face an important but winnable game in New Orleans on Sunday. With or without injured Saints quarterback Drew Brees playing, it is one Dallas must find a way to leave victorious. If for some reason they cannot handle this 0-3 team, the cries for Cassel will intensify astronomically.
But maybe the answer doesn’t play quarterback at all. Maybe you’ll even see him on Sunday night. Prepare to watch Christine Michael make his debut for the Dallas Cowboys.